SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Health leaders are getting ready to roll out millions of new COVID-19 boosters that target the newer variants of omicron.
Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave emergency use authorization for reformulated versions of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. The double-barreled shot called a Bivalent vaccine aims to protect from more variants of the virus.
“We’re seeing new variants creep up every day,” said Dr. Tim Connelly, Internal Medicine Physician at Memorial Health Hospital.
Doctors say COVID mutates faster than other respiratory illnesses like the flu.
“With the influenza virus it takes about 3 years to form a variant, with COVID-19 it happens in less than a year,” Connelly said.
Because the original mRNA vaccines manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna have a slightly different spike protein than the one found in the omicron BA.4 and BA.5 sub-variants, most people are catching it now. The FDA authorized a new booster shot that will target both the original strain of the coronavirus and the new strains.
“The new Pfizer and Moderna COVID boosters are about 50% of the mRNA vaccines for the ancestry or for the legacy virus of COVID-19 and about 50% of the mRNA vaccine is geared toward the BA.4, BA.5 variant of the omicron version of COVID-19,” Connelly said. “So it’s about half and half, and it’s very effective.”
Connelly said it will reduce the risk of infection by about 90%, which could help avoid another COVID spike in the future.
“A tweaked booster that specifically targets the BA.4 and BA.5 is very likely if enough people get it to significantly lessen the blow that we may experience when the winter comes,” Connelly said.
This news comes as COVID cases and hospitalizations in the Coastal Empire trend downward.
“We have under 30 now in our hospital right now admitted under isolation with COVID-19 so our numbers are slowly trending downward,” Connelly said.
Connelly said he expects the new boosters to be available in the next four to six weeks but in the meantime, he says for those who want to get a booster right away, it’s still effective in reducing the risk of severe illness.
“Even our older vaccines confer considerable protection against BA.4 and BA.5, the people who have been getting that that are fully vaccinated may get sick but they tend to not be very sick in terms of regarding hospitalization or needing ventilation,” Connelly said.
Although Connelly says he’s expecting them to become available in our area in the next four to six weeks, there’s no exact timeline available now Right now there’s no information on eligibility but we do know that the Moderna booster is authorized for those 18 and older and Pfizer’s is authorized for people ages 12 and up.